Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Flair Cooks for Obamas in Ghana

I telephoned my colleague Barbara Baeta of Flair Catering in Ghana (and my collaborator on our upcoming Ghanaian cookbook, the recipes of which are appearing in development on Betumiblog regularly) to find out if she could help me discover what the Obama family was served during their stay in Accra in July. It turns out the one State meal catered for them was breakfast, and her own Flair Catering was selected to provide that meal (for 600 people)! She's sending me the menu tomorrow (Thursday), so check back to find out what was served. Barbara was quick to point out that she knows what Flair served, but not what the Obamas themselves actually ate.

She compared the security there in 2009 to that when she cooked for President Jimmy Carter (pre 9/11)--then it was much looser, and she was able to chat with the President; this time, though she was a few yards away from President Obama, and saw his wife come down, she was unable to meet them and security soon hustled everyone away. Plus, there were meetings going on upstairs, where Flair also set up a buffet table, but she doesn't know if President Obama actually tried any of the food or not. A combination of Ghanaian and European food was served.

Barbara commented to me that some of the culinary
reporting was inaccurate. Among other things, they got her name wrong and called her "Henrietta." Also, while kenkey was part of the buffet, tilapia was not ("I wasn't going to take a chance on all those bones."). Instead, she said, they prepared grouper fillets. I hope she'll be able to get some pictures of the tables, too. She said everything looked lovely, but security was so tight there was no way for her to photograph anything herself. For some photographs I took at Flair's 40th birthday party in 2008, go to BETUMI's flickr account.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jiló in Brazil, garden egg (ntroma) in Ghana

A few weeks ago, a Brazilian friend and I went to lunch at an award-winning cafe in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. One of the featured items on the menu had "jiló" (pronounced zhee-LO) in the name. "What's that?" I wanted to know. "Oh, it's a vegetable especially popular in Minas Gerais. It tastes wonderful" she assured me. She held her thumb and forefinger almost together to make an oval, and said "It's shaped like this, and about this size."

I decided to order a different dish for lunch, but the next time I went grocery shopping I picked up a "jiló" to try. When I cut it open, I was surprised to realize it was an unripe garden egg, the beloved little egg-shaped eggplant vegetable used in Ghana and other places in West Africa. I added it to whatever stew I was making that night, and found it more bitter than I remembered the garden eggs in Ghana. Interestingly, Brazilians find the ripe fruit bitter and the market will only accept the "young, sweet" green jil
ó. It's true that's the only kind I've seen here in the 3 months I've been in Brazil. I generally substitute eggplant in the U.S. because I don't have access to fresh garden eggs, though I have seen some Japanese eggplants in the stores that look similar. Jiló, too, can be used interchangeably with eggplant.

It turns out that there are 2 kinds of jiló
(Solanum gilo), both from the Solanaceae family: the kind popular in Belo and other parts of this region (comprido verde claro, or "long light green") and a rounder, more bitter type called morro redondo). Jiló is originally from Africa and found its way to Brazil, though not other Portuguese-speaking countries, via the slave trade.

It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected the world is!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Refogado in Ghana

I've learned a great Portuguese culinary word: refogado. The book Barbara Baeta and I are writing on Ghanaian regional cuisine has a section on the ABCs of cooking in Ghana. It includes a discussion of one of the basic building blocks of most Ghanaian stews: a sauce/stew base made from oil, chopped or sliced onions, and tomatoes, as well as other ingredients like garlic or peppers. The "correct" way to prepare the base is to heat the oil, saute the onions first, then stir in the tomatoes, etc. This is what they call "refogado" in Brazil, and is, likewise, a basic technique for beginning many dishes in Brazil. As my husband is fond of saying "travel and see!"

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Ghana in Chicago

I'm off to Chicago in two days for the International Association of Culinary Professionals' (IACP) annual conference. Gloria Mensah and I will be doing a presentation on Ghana's food and foodways, featuring tastings of gari foto and groundnut stew. Our session is called "The Good Soup Comes from the Good Earth: Cooking of Ghana, Gateway to West Africa." Gloria will join us fresh from the Ghana Jubilee celebration held in Calgary, Canada, where she helped oversee a culinary (and cultural) feast enjoyed by some 600 folks.

There're still a lot of loose ends to tie up, so it'll be a few days before I'm able to blog again. While in Chicago, some of us plan to dine at Madieye and Awa Gueye's newly enlarged Yassa African Restaurant restaurant, and I hope to pick up supplies for our presentation at Chicago's Makola Market. I'll be sure to report on the trip, and will have my trusty digital camera in hand.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ghana-style Kenkey

Italy has polenta, Ghana has kenkey. This steamed fermented corn dough dish from Ghana has several versions. The two most well-known include Ga and Fanti styles, the former dough including salt and made of balls wrapped in corn husks before steaming, the latter without salt and wrapped in plantain leaves. It is also called komi in Ga, dokono in Twi, or dokon in Fante, kokui or tim in Ewe (sorry, I'm missing the correct orthography to insert special Akan characters in several of these words).

There are numerous other versions of kenkey, including a type where the skins of the corn are removed before grinding it. A sweet version is called dokompa, and it is one of the few instances where sugar is added to a main carbohydrate (sweet potatoes or yam are also added). Kenkey can also be made from plantains, where very ripe plantains are pounded and mixed with green plantain meal (amada kokonte). Plantain kenkey is known as brodokono in Twi, afanku in Ga, and ahyenku or asenku in Fante.

The preparation of corn-based kenkey involves souring the dough, then cooking half of it slightly to make aflatta, (a.k.a. ohu, or half-cooked banku), then mixing the partly cooked dough with the uncooked dough and wrapping and steaming the mixture. Banku is a smooth, softer dough that is cooked and stirred, rather than steamed.

Kenkey fascinates me, and I hope to continue tracing its history when I'm in Brazil later this year. Apparently some of the
peoples in Amazonia, such as the Tupi-Guarani, also ferment corn to make dough. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa have thick corn-based porridges (pap, bidia, ushima, sadza, ugali, etc.), but Ghana's fermented dough seems different. It is also difficult to duplicate in North America, where we are usually forced to ferment Indian Head or other (white) cornmeal. This disappoints on several counts: the corn should be soaked before being ground and fermented (something to do with how the starch changes to sugar, a food scientist in Ghana once tried to explain to me), it should be white (harder to find in the U.S.), and it should be finer than our stone ground cornmeal. I've also tried soaking dried Indian corn, and grinding it myself, but have not identified the correct types (flint, dent?) and been unsuccessful. Ga-style kenkey is wonderful with crisply fried fish, a spicy pepper sauce/sambal such as Ghana's "sheeto," and a fresh tomato, pepper, and onion "gravy."

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